HARRY MAGUIRE has made two huge mistakes already since the return of the Premier League last month.
The first, against Tottenham Hotspur and Steven Bergwijn, exposed his lack of pace, and at the weekend against Bournemouth, he was beaten very easily in a tight space by Junior Stanislas.
Neither should have happen so easily, and Manchester United fans are hoping it’s not the start of a poor run that would not only cost them this campaign, but the next too.
Just to be clear, Maguire is a very good Premier League defender. But this is Manchester United and he’s the captain, so naturally he is in a position where every second, of every game, is overanalysed.
To be fair he has not got much support.
Victor Lindelof still doesn’t look completely at home, while Axel Tuanzebe and Eric Bailly are unable to shrug off inconsistent performances and injuries.
Further down the list, it doesn’t read much better either.
For different reasons, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo are chalked down as lost causes, waiting in the departure lounge for the summer transfer window to open.
Could the answer lie in Rome, and Chris Smalling?
The former Fulham defender signed for United in 2010 but was loaned out to Roma at the beginning of this season.
Even though the Serie A side have been impressed with him, he’s still officially a United player.
He might not be the most comfortable with the ball but he’s certainly stronger in the air than Lindelof, and is better than both the Swede and Maguire in one-on-one situations.
As far as signings go, Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly is the popular name amongst supporters – but United will not pay £80million plus for a player who turns 30 next year.
The more likely option is thought to be Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake who, if the South Coast club are relegated, could be picked up for just under £40m.
When United signed Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, I think Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his team thought that the solution to all their defensive problems was found.
And, without question the defence has improved, with Wan-Bissaka in particular performing exceptionally well.
The next level for United isn’t merely “making do” with a top-four spot, it is challenging for honours at home and abroad, and if they want to do that over the next couple of years then Maguire will need a hand.
Maguire could go on and become a superb partner to a more commanding and mobile central defender.
But this depends on how much surgery Solskjaer still thinks is required in other areas of the team, and how much money he has to spend.
So it’s simple; if money is to be spent elsewhere, then call Smalling back and use as a reliable back-up and/or someone else to put pressure on Lindelof.
If strengthening the defence is a greater concern than, say, going for Jadon Sancho or Jack Grealish, then test Bournemouth’s resolve for Ake.
Dropping Maguire is a dilemma that Solskjaer probably hasn’t considered but if United can get the “right” partner next to him, he could still excel as a player and as a captain.
Failure to strengthen the centre of defence in some way could derail the boss’ plans and the progress he has made, and at the same time damage Maguire’s hopes of leading England next summer.